Propaganda in Chairman Mao’s Revolution (Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang)

Mao. Types of propaganda in Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution based on Ji-li Jiang’s Red Scarf Girl
Chairman Mao (Mao Zedong/Mao Tse-tung) with Nikita Khrushchev in 1958. Ji-li Jiang’s 1998 book ‘Red Scarf Girl’ shows the types of propaganda used in Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. (Photo: Public Domain)

In the 1998 book Red Scarf Girl, Ji-li Jiang shows the different types of propaganda used in Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Propaganda was used to persuade the people to support the Cultural Revolution. People needed to change to remove the Four Olds from Chinese society. The Four Olds were the old culture, old customs, old ideas, and old habits believed to be responsible for Chinese poverty. However, these changes were difficult to achieve. Changing people’s way of life and thinking were a major undertaking. Thus, propaganda was used to ensure the Revolution’s success. Propaganda was a strategy of persuasion developed to make the people agree with the aims of the Revolution and the supposed necessary changes associated with it. Without propaganda, it would be difficult to convince the people to take the steps for change and abandon the Four Olds. Chairman Mao basically used propaganda to get people’s support for the Cultural Revolution.

There are various types of propaganda that one can use to get people’s attention and support. However, not all types have the same level of success. The effectiveness of using propaganda depends on the objectives, as well as the nature of the people involved in the situation. Based on Jiang’s book, Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution used the following types of propaganda:

  1. Name-calling
  2. Fear
  3. Plain folks
  4. Logical fallacies

Chairman Mao’s Propaganda: Name-calling

Name-calling was the most obvious type of propaganda used in Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The label red was used to refer to Chairman Mao’s supporters. People were black if they did not support the Cultural Revolution. In this propaganda, people were black if they kept the Four Olds. The children of black families were called black whelps. These social labels made it easy to create a division in the Chinese population. In addition, it was easy to implement and the results were significant in terms of catching people’s attention and in terms of compelling them to change at least their overt behaviors toward the Revolution.

The name-calling propaganda made it easy for Chairman Mao to divide the people. The Red Guards and other reds were distinguished from the blacks. In this propaganda, the red label gave a strong feeling of authority and power over the blacks. For example, the propaganda enabled the Red Guards to exercise authority to raid homes and humiliate the blacks.

Fear Propaganda in the Cultural Revolution

Fear was also one of the propaganda types used in Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The people gave in to this fear. Chairman Mao emphasized that, if China kept the Four Olds, poverty would remain. This fear led many people to believe in the Cultural Revolution. However, this kind of fear in the propaganda was only implied. It focused on future possibilities of poverty.

Fear from punishment was a direct kind of fear in Chairman Mao’s propaganda for the Cultural Revolution. People were punished for keeping the Four Olds. The Red Guards raided and humiliated blacks. People abandoned the Four Olds because of fear of punishment. In this propaganda, even those who originally did not support Chairman Mao abandoned the Four Olds because of fear of punishment.

Chairman Mao’s Plain Folks Propaganda

The plain folks propaganda type was used in Chairman Mao’s political campaigns. Plain Folks is a fallacy where one tries to show that he is similar to the audience, based on his background. In the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao always showed that he was like the masses because he wanted equality and an end to poverty. Through this propaganda, the poor Chinese masses were able to relate with him because his parents used to be poor peasants.

Plain Folks was also used as propaganda through the Red Guards. Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution used the Red Guards as a paramilitary organization. Many of the members of the Red Guards came from poor peasant families. Thus, through the plain folks propaganda, it was easy for the poor Chinese masses to relate with the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution.

Logical Fallacies Propaganda in Chairman Mao’s Revolution

Logical fallacies were the least obvious in Chairman Mao’s propaganda. For example, he used a false dichotomy, arguing that one is either red or black, pro-Mao or anti-Mao. One was either for or against the Cultural Revolution. In this propaganda, there was no other possibility. Neutral people were humiliated and suspected of hiding their true support for or opposition to Chairman Mao.

Logical fallacies in Mao’s propaganda were also in the actions of the Red Guards. For example, the Red Guards humiliated people for having Western nicknames or pictures of capitalist businesses. These things did not necessarily mean that one was anti-Mao. Still, the Red Guards purged homes, using such propaganda in the pro-communist and anti-Western Cultural Revolution.

Impact of Chairman Mao’s Propaganda

The various types of propaganda in Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution were a desperate measure. These types of propaganda wrongly justified and empowered the Red Guards. The propaganda also helped increase people’s support for Chairman Mao. Even though the Cultural Revolution is now widely criticized, Chairman Mao’s propaganda was effective.


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